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Lynn school suspensions continue to decrease

LYNN — New data shows that the percentage of Lynn Public School students disciplined by suspension has decreased almost each year since 2013.

Deputy Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler briefed the Lynn School Committee on suspension data Thursday night. He said in the 2016-2017 school year, the percentage of Lynn Public School students suspended was the lowest on record, since the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education started keeping records five years ago.

“That’s really, really important,” Tutwiler said. “There’s been a steady decline in suspensions in Lynn Public Schools for at the least the past five years. We believe really strongly that an education change is a process, not an event. The steady decline reflects thoughtful, sustainable moves to meet the students needs.

“A dramatic reduction in any given year would be more reflective of an event and sustainability in that scenario would be questionable.”

In 2013, in Lynn Public Schools, there were 15.5 percent of students disciplined by suspension, 14.5 percent in 2014, 9.7 percent in 2015, 10.6 percent in 2016 and 7.9 percent in 2017.

Data was also broken down by the middle and high school level. At the middle school level, there were 19.4 percent of students disciplined by suspension in 2013, the same figure in 2014, 14.1 percent in 2015, 14.1 percent in 2016 and 9 percent in 2017.

At the high school level, there were 33.8 percent of students disciplined by suspension in 2013, 30.2 percent in 2014, 19.4 percent in 2015, 21.2 percent in 2016, and 15.6 percent in 2017.

Data shows 8.5 percent of the school district’s students were disciplined with out of school suspensions in 2016, which decreased to 6.8 percent in 2017.

Tutwiler said suspensions from Sept. to January of this year are two percent lower than that same timeframe last year, keeping in mind that was the lowest suspension rate on record.

In 2012, Tutwiler said an act relative to student access to educational services and exclusion from school was passed in Massachusetts, which is designed to limit the use of long-term suspension, prohibit disproportionate suspension based on race, ethnicity or disability and in an exclusion, ensure that there are no interruptions to a student’s education.

“We know really clearly that behaviors that result in a suspendable offense is really a mechanism or reflective of an unmet need and we need to figure out what that need is and support that student. We also feel strongly about accountability,” Tutwiler said. “We want to have control and peace and harmony in our schools and sometimes a suspension is necessary. Nowhere in the new law does it say you must not suspend students. I just want to be clear about that.”

Tutwiler said schools are continuing to embrace the parents as partners concept in an effort to engage parents early on when the school senses there’s a problem with the students. He said guidance counselors and social workers continue to be deeply involved in discipline incidents as the school works to get to the root of the problem.

“There’s continued fidelity to progressive discipline,” he said. “We’re making suspensions a last resort and schools are continuing to display some creativity around coming up with other ways to hold student accountable other than suspensions.”

Donna Coppola, school committee vice-chair, said her concern was the 30.8 percent suspension rate for students with disability at Lynn English High School, but Tutwiler said that does not represent a disproportionate assignment of suspensions for that subgroup, according to the statistical method the state uses.

“I do think it is encouraging the progress we’re making and I share your interest in measure and tone that we have room to continue to improve,” Nicholson said. “Making progress on any issue we consider to be tough is something to celebrate.”

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